Four months ago, Ambati Rayudu appeared for a Yo-Yo test — an aerobic fitness routine the Indian team management swears by — failed and saw his name being struck out from the One-Day International side to tour England. Being picked for the Asia Cup (after clearing the fitness test) gave his career a lifeline, after being out of the national side for over two years, and he did enough (175 runs; 43.75 average; 80.72 strike rate) to retain his place in the squad for the five ODIs against the West Indies, which begin in Guwahati on Sunday.
On the eve of the match, captain Virat Kohli — who will be making an ODI comeback after being rested for the Asia Cup — gave Rayudu a shot in the arm by naming him as the batsman who had the potential to seal the No.4 spot, the only one the team management is still auditioning for ahead of next year’s World Cup. Kohli said that the batting order below No.4 was flexible.
“Batting order is always ready, especially after four. The guys below four are always flexible in terms of the situation. You want the best thing for the team. Being flexible is very important,” Kohli said.
The Indian team is scheduled to play 18 ODIs before the World Cup next May and Rayudu is likely to get a long run to settle into the No.4 spot. “The only position we were trying to figure out was number four for a long time. We tried many players who unfortunately could not capitalise or cement their places in a way we wanted,” Kohli said ahead of the first one-dayer against the West Indies on Sunday.
“With Rayudu coming in and playing well in the Asia Cup, it’s about giving him enough game time till the World Cup so that the particular slot will be sorted for us,” he added.
A number of players have been tried at No.4 but none have managed to make the position their own. Dinesh Karthik occupied this position in England and during the Asia Cup, while KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane have been given a go too recently.
“The team felt there… and I also watched him… that he (Rayudu) is designed to play that middle-order batsman’s role. We feel that our middle order is more or less balanced now,” Kohli said. “We believe he is the right person to capitalise on that spot. He is experienced and has won many games for his state and also in the IPL. He has a great ODI record already for India. I think the batting order is sorted.”
The IPL season Kohli was referring to was the last edition in which Rayudu scored over 600 runs, which earned him a berth in the ODI squad for England. But he missed out because of a failed Yo-Yo Test. In the interim, Rayudu was at the National Cricket Academy working on his fitness to ensure that he didn’t fail the test again.
At the Asia Cup, in Kohli’s absence, Rayudu batted at No.3 but against West Indies he will drop down a place.
Khaleel provides variety
Kohli also spoke about young left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who has been named the 12th man for Sunday’s match, and said it’s good to see someone of that variety coming up the ranks after a long time since the retirements of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.
“We don’t want to leave any bases uncovered. We thought bringing a left-arm pacer into the mix will give us enough variety. He has the ability to swing both ways and get good bounce as well. He also bowls at a decent pace,” he said. Kohli said his front line pace duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will feed off the variety provided by Khaleel.
Inputs from PTI